Essay Preview: John Piaget
Report this essay
Throughout history, many people have made amazing contributions to the school of
psychology.One of these was Jean Piaget and his theories on the cognitive development stages.
Jean Piaget was born in Neuchatel, Switzerland. Here he studied at the university and received a doctorate in biology at the age of 22. Following his schooling he became increasingly
interested in psychology and began much research and studying of the subject. From this
research Piaget created a broad theoretical system for the development of cognitive abilities.
His work, in this way, was much like that of Sigmund Freud, but Piaget emphasized the ways
that children think and acquire knowledge.
Piaget referred to his theory as genetic epistemology. This is defined as the study of the
acquisition, modification, and growth of abstract ideas and the abilities as on the basis of an
inherited or biological substrate, an intelligent functioning that makes the growth of abstract
thought possible.(Ginsburg 5) Piaget derived his theories from directly observing children and
by questioning them about their thinking. He was less interested in whether the children
answered correctly than how they arrived at their answers. Piaget viewed intelligence as an
extension of biological adaptation that has a logical structure. One of the central points of his
theories was that of epigenesis. This is that growth and development occur in a series of stages,
each of which is built on the successful mastery of the previous stage.(Furth 33)
Piaget described four major stages leading to the capacity for adult thought. Each stage is a
prerequisite for the following stage, but the rate at which different children move through
different stages varies with their heredity and environment. Piagets four stages are the
sensorimotor stage, the stage of preoperational thought, the stage of concrete operations and
the stage of formal operations.
The first stage that Piaget felt all children go through was the sensorimotor stage. This stage
occurs between birth and two years of age. This is the stage when Infants begin to learn through
sensory observation, and they gain control of their motor functions through activity, exploration
and manipulation of the environment. (Furth 29) From birth, biology and experience work
together to produce learned behavior. As infants become more mobile, one action is built upon
another action, forming new and more complex actions. Infants spatial, visual, and tactile
worlds expand during this period in which children actively interact with their environment and
use previously learned behaviors.
The critical achievement of this period is the development of object permanence. This is the
indication that a child has the ability to understand that objects have an existence independent of
the childs involvement with them. Infants learn to differentiate themselves from the world and
are able to maintain a mental image of an object, even when it is not present and visible.
At about 18 months, infants begin to develop mental symbols and to use words. This process is
called symbolization. Infants are able to create a visual or mental image of an object to stand for
or signify the real object. The attainment of object permanence marks the transition from the
sensorimotor stage to the preoperational stage.
During the stage of peoperational thought, children use language and symbols more extensively
than in the sensorimotor stage. Children learn without the use of reasoning, therefore are unable
to think logically or deductively. Children are able to name the object but they are unable to
categorize or class these objects. Preopreational thought is midway between socialized adult
thought and the completely autistic freudian unconscious. (Furth 57) Events are also not linked
In this stage, children begin to use language and drawings in more elaborate ways. From once
using one word utterances they begin to use two word phrases, which make up a single noun
and verb. Children in this developmental stage are ecogentric. They see themselves as the
center of the universe, therefore they are unable to take the role of another person. In addition ,
children use animistic thinking which is the tendency to endow events and objects with lifelike
The stage of concrete operations is so named because in this period children operate and act on
the concrete, real, and perceivable world of objects and events. Egocentric